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Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The Helsinki capital region transport system was shaken up earlier this year with the opening of the Western Metro extension through to Matinkylä in Espoo. There are still a few grumblings about the metro with delays due to “technical difficulties” occurring, although delays appear to be announced as the Metro trains running at irregular intervals.

The few times I have gone down to the metro station in Matinkylä, the next train information boards at the top of the escalators have not always matched the times of the electronic boards at platform level.  Annoying when you’ve moved swiftly down the long escalators to catch a train that’s supposed to be going in two minutes to then find an irregular delay.

Originally the western metro extension was designed to work with driverless trains that would be smaller and more frequent. Thus, the platforms were built shorter which was also cheaper but the driverless trains were cancelled in 2015 and so now there is a mismatch in capacity between the eastern longer stations and the newer metro line.

The driverless train safety system was installed and apparently it is possible to run trains at intervals as close as 90 seconds. To alleviate the problem caused by the smaller capacity of shorter trains, the metro runs every 2½ minutes at peak travel times but only between Tapiola and Itäkeskus. Those of us travelling westwards from Tapiola have to put up with the normal 5-minute intervals which sometimes causes the inconvenience of standing room only during the rush hours. Although crowded, these trains are nowhere near as bad as the Moscow, London or other large city systems when running at peak capacity.

Moans and groans about the bus feeder system to the main stations in Espoo have declined. On average most people travelling to the Matinkylä metro have added an extra 10 minutes to their Helsinki commuter journey compared to the old direct busses.

Most seem to accept that this is the price of more environmentally friendly transport and those living in the far western reaches of Espoo have been placated with Helsinki direct busses. HSL regularly review the system and the latest change announced will be a bus linking Latokaski directly to Matinkylä via the motorway and that will replace the current 531K bus that winds its way slowly through other suburbs. These small tweaks will be nothing in comparison to the region wide changes coming in spring 2019. 

Picture: HSL

Rather than boundaries based on the municipalities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and further afield, the new travel zones will be distance based from central Helsinki. The type of tickets to purchase will remain the same and big cost savings will be made by those only travelling across one or two zones.

There are some winners and losers in the new system. If you only need a two-zone season ticket for 30 days, this will cost just under 47 euros, which will be 44% less than the current regional ticket priced at €5.50. Then in future for those occasional longer journeys across three zones, the additional zone will cost only an extra €2.50. 

There will still be discounts for those subscribing for an annual travelcard and payments can be made monthly. Over 600,000 people live in travel zone B, just over half of the total of the capital region’s residents and these savings are hoped to encourage an increase of public transport by five percent. Those living in the new Zone D may make a small travel cost saving for their commute to central Helsinki.  The new ABCD zone 30-day ticket will cost 156.40€, two euros less a month.

The criteria for pensioner and disabled discounts will remain unchanged, but the discount rates will be harmonized so that the discount will be 50 percent for all. The blind will be entitled to free travel also in the future, as well as passengers traveling with small children in a pram or push chair. Passengers traveling with a wheelchair will also retain the right to travel without a ticket. The age limit for child tickets will be extended to 17 years.

Residents over 70 years of age will also get 50 percent discount on single tickets purchased with the HSL card. Although the discount will only apply to adult single tickets and zone extension tickets for journeys between 9-14:00 all days of the week.

Many winners but a few losers. Some will be those who live in zone C, just over the boundary from zone B, and who commute to central Helsinki regularly. The new zone system will be one euro extra for a 30-day season ticket covering zones A B and C, and cost 107.50€, which is frustrating when neighboring addresses in zone B make the huge saving mentioned above for the central Helsinki journey.

To give HSL credit, the transport authority has tried to use major roads such as the Ring 3 and natural features such as lakes and forest to draw the boundaries. Other losers will be students who will lose five percent of their discount but the age limit and proof of student funding will be dropped. A student will only need to show proof of study.

To facilitate the new zones and other changes, residents will need to swap their travel cards for the new blue colored version. All value already on the travel card will automatically be transferred but once the new zones start the old cards will no longer work.  The old cards will not be topped up at ticket machines after January 7th, and once the new zones operate it will cost 6€ to swap your card.